Women woke to find a new item on our stay-safe list. Beneath “stick to well-lit streets” and “wear flat shoes you can run in”; after “text your taxi’s number plate to a friend” and “clutch keys in your fist like a claw” came new guidance: “Don’t trust a policeman working alone.”
Is this our duty too? To adjudge on dark nights whether men paid with our taxes to protect us may prefer to kill us? The North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott said that Sarah Everard “should never have submitted to arrest”. But women are raised to comply. It’s drummed into us: be good, be kind. Sarah got into Wayne Couzens’s car because, in visiting her friend, she knew she’d broken lockdown rules. Sorry, officer, I’ll come to the station. Handcuffs? Are you sure? OK . . .
No more. If Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, in which women’s rage converts into high-voltage electricity, were true, skies would crackle, buildings blaze. Not just for Sarah or Sabina Nessa, bludgeoned crossing a park, or Julia James, walking her dog, or Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, enjoying a summer night. Nor even for all 80 women killed by men since Sarah. But because we will no longer accept male violence, and the misogyny which underpins it, being shrugged away.
The police should have no doubt this is their Jimmy Savile moment. Cressida Dick chose the day Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnapping and rape to talk about the odd ‘bad ’un’ in the force. But what does that make colleagues who let him slide across the spectrum, from slapping a female cop’s backside to stopping only women motorists, using personal details to loiter outside their homes. Women now know that acquiring the nickname The Rapist is no impediment to a police career.
It’s all banter isn’t it, just a laugh? Couzens, spotted driving around naked from the waist-down? A kink, maybe. (Once flashers were comedy staples, now it’s argued that indecent exposure is an outdated offence in our sex-positive age.) Couzens using violent pornography or hiring prostitutes? Only a prude would judge. (Unembarrassed men browse PornHub right beside you on a train.) Every warning sign that Couzens saw women as disposable objects was glossed over, not even picked up in professional screening which granted him a gun.
Because we never riot and, alas, lack electric super-powers, police disregard our deaths. Even our grief at the Sarah Everard vigil, where officers stomped flowers and strong-armed speakers, wasn’t worthy of the respect protesters receive for lying on the M25. They are political: women are collateral.
If a man is freaked out by lockdown he might kill his wife of 44 years: Ruth Williams. If he’s drunk, horny and has watched choking porn he might strangle his mistress: Sophie Moss. (Both men got five years.) All these reported pillars of the community, decent dads, nice, quiet blokes who just “turned”. Nothing to see. Just an annual 150 or so one-offs.
Yet Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire, has spoken of “institutional misogyny” so ingrained in the decision-making “they don’t realise they are doing it and why”. She reports police calling young women “whores” or “sugar tits”, older ones “Dorises”.
No surprise that Couzens and colleagues traded racist and misogynist WhatsApp messages or that other Met officers posed for selfies by Nicole and Bibaa’s dead bodies. Because we know northern police forces ignored gangs trafficking underage girls for sex for decades, since they were just “little slags”. We learnt this week that police chiefs disregarded undercover cops having sexual relationships with women by deception. The impunity of the penis rules the police, as elsewhere.
Now a third of officers are women, yet it is still hard to complain about men like Couzens. Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent, said female officers hesitate to report colleagues lest they be labelled as troublemakers so “when you press your emergency button on your radio for back up, no one comes and you get beaten up in the street”.
In a super-complaint lodged by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), of which I am a trustee, 666 women reported abuse by police officer partners. Australian research has shown that since policemen tend to have more authoritarian personalities they are more likely to be controlling spouses, yet their conviction rate for domestic violence is 3.9 per cent compared with a 6.2 per cent average in the general population.
CWJ argues this is because the police service looks after its own. Abusive officers told their wives that since colleagues would investigate their claims, they would never be believed. Indeed, in case after case women report that witnesses aren’t contacted, statements and evidence lost, no further action taken. (CWJ wants a separate channel for police partners to report abuse away from boys’-club meddling.) No wonder that since 2009 at least 15 serving or ex-police officers have killed women.
This statistic is from the femicide census, the annual list read in parliament by Jess Phillips compiled by the campaigner Karen Ingala Smith from news reports. She does this because, astonishingly, the government doesn’t keep data on how many women are killed by men. The first of many acts police need to perform to win back women’s trust is create a femicide league table showing which forces have brought women’s deaths down. And spare us that sly obfuscation “gender-based violence”.
It is time for the demands of violence against women campaigners to be addressed. Cressida Dick should dedicate her remaining years to this most intractable crime. Male violence is a problem with the deepest, most tangled roots. And police are just men, but with handcuffs and warrant cards.
QotD: “Courts ‘scandal’ robbing domestic abuse victims of their children – sometimes to their abusers”
Victims of domestic abuse are being discriminated against in the family courts and regularly lose custody of their children, sometimes to their abusers, according to campaigners, social workers and lawyers who’ve spoken to Sky News.
Courts and councils are accused of helping abusers to land a huge psychological blow on the victim and their child, by separating them and severely damaging their lives.
The situation is so bad, the domestic abuse commissioner says lawyers often advise clients not to tell the court they have been victims of domestic violence in case it is used against them.
Nicole Jacobs told Sky News that solicitors tell them: “The judge doesn’t like it, it complicates things.”
Barrister and advisor to the government on domestic abuse, Usha Sood, has described the situation as “scandalous”, and is among many calling for greater transparency in the family courts.
One leading campaigner on child sexual exploitation (CSE), Sammy Woodhouse, says that victims of CSE who become mothers are facing similar problems with “hundreds of women” contacting her to say: “I wish I’d never come forward because now they’re going to take my kids.”
Sky News looked at the case of “Sally”, whose daughter was removed from her care four years ago and given to her ex-partner, who she claims she had broken up with to escape from an abusive relationship.
In disturbing footage of the moment her daughter is removed, the toddler reaches out and cries “mummy” as she is carried to a car to be taken away.
Campaigners say that for the abuser, child custody is often part of a malicious game to gain control of the victim, who has otherwise escaped the violent behaviour.
Sally told us when her ex-partner applied for custody, that’s how she viewed it.
She said: “I knew it was a game, I knew it was about control, I knew it was just going to be another abusive tactic to cause as much chaos and pain and drama as possible. And I just thought it was absolutely absurd.”
But the court ruled that her ex should have custody and Sally, who is DBS checked to work with other children, can now only have supervised contact with her own child once a fortnight.
We don’t have the partner’s side of the story, but the case was assessed by an independent social worker from another district.
She looked at the psychological assessment into the mother and in her report suggests it implies that “the domestic violence work being undertaken by [the mother] was having a negative effect upon her ability to progress” and the social worker believes this was used to remove the child and place it with the alleged abuser.
In her assessment, the social worker concluded the mother “should have been encouraged/supported to engage in domestic violence work, not criticised for it”.
The report author also found that while the child was observed to have “an excellent relationship” with her mother and was reaching developmental milestones, the toddler often reacted badly to contact with the partner, screaming “no, no, no, don’t go” and “clawing at her mother”.
The report author, who we can’t identify for legal reasons, told Sky News: “I was basically shocked when I read the documents that were provided to me as to why this child was taken.
“It was absolutely appalling and shocking and highly disturbing.”
Ms Jacobs said: “These are the times when the stakes are highest. Someone losing their child to a perpetrator, someone that they feel and know is unsafe for their child, and these are decisions being made.
“And this is what’s happening day in and day out in our family courts, which is why we need so much more oversight.
“Many of them will say their own solicitor advised them not to raise domestic abuse.
“They’ll say they were advised because the opinion of that solicitor was quote-on-quote ‘the judge doesn’t like it, that it complicates things’ and so they will advise people to avoid raising those issues.
“Then of course there are real consequences to that if decisions are being made without understanding this history of abuse or the context of abuse within a family.
“And so, there is a real oddity about this, that we have players in the system who are in and out of courts every day thinking that the system is not able to understand domestic abuse so much that it’s best not to even talk about it.”
Ms Jacobs added: “It seems extreme, and it doesn’t make sense, and yet it’s happening in huge volumes every single day.”
There seems to be a range of reasons why victims of domestic abuse fall foul of the courts.
Sometimes they are not believed and are considered too protective of their children, not wanting their partner to have unsupervised access.
In other cases, they are portrayed as damaged, passing on psychological scars to their children.
The family court’s first consideration is always to protect the child, but campaigners say this can bring suspicion on parents who reach out for support and not just in domestic violence cases.
Rotherham has hundreds of victims from its infamous child abuse scandal – who are now parents themselves.
An independent report found that as children they were let down by the authorities, who made assumptions about them being prostitutes or making poor lifestyle choices.
Survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse told Sky News similar assumptions are being made about a child abuse victim’s parenting skills.
She said: “If you’ve been raped or exploited, you know, we know that that can affect you not just for many years but sometimes for a lifetime, and that’s what they’re trying to use, in removing children.
“Then what’s happening is when children are being removed and if those children are being conceived through that abuse or rape, they are then given to the perpetrator.”
Ms Woodhouse added: “The man who raped me, he was offered to apply to courts not just for contact but for full custody.
“He’s sat in prison for 35 years for being, you know, one of the worst sex offenders in the country.
“Unfortunately, lessons aren’t being learnt.
“I’ve been contacted by hundreds of women around the country – so this isn’t just a Rotherham problem – saying ‘Sammy, I wish I’d never come forward. You know, I wish I’d have just kept my mouth shut and not told anyone because now they’re going to take my kids.'”
Another alleged victim of child abuse, “Kelly”, was groomed by a man from the age of 15. By 16 she had a baby.
She says she was made to have a Muslim marriage ceremony and was virtually imprisoned in the house, suffering regular domestic violence.
She told Sky News: “He was pulling me around by my hair, slapping me, dragging me about, kicking me, punching me, ripped my clothes, you know I had bald patches in my head from where he’d dragged me about by my hair.”
The father was even convicted of abuse against Kelly, but won custody partly because the boy said he wanted to be with his father.
Kelly says the boy was coerced. “He’d say to my son, you know, ‘Your mum’s a dirty white w****. She’s a dirty prostitute. You know, when you get older, when you get to 16, beat her up, kick her in the head, spit on her, come and live with me, she’s just a tramp.'”
Kelly’s barrister Usha Sood says the court should have seen the signs in her son’s behaviour: “There were several indicators, like he’d call her names.
“He swore at his mother many times. He would order her to do things, and he’d call her s***.”
Mrs Sood, an advisor to the government on domestic abuse, says her client’s story is the symptom of a wider problem.
She said: “I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it other than it is a real scandal that there hasn’t been a multi-faceted attempt to cure this.
“We see reports damning the police, we see reports damning the CPS for low prosecutions.
“We also see reports saying social services aren’t doing their job.
“But at the end of the day, all these agencies have a responsibility to tackle domestic abuse.”
In Sally’s case, a spokesperson for the local authority concerned told Sky News: “All the of the evidence in this case has been considered by the family courts, on several occasions and in front of different judges.
“The court has made the final decisions about the child’s care.
“Throughout these proceedings, the child has been represented by a court appointed guardian, independent of the local authority, to ensure that their views and wishes are heard.
“At all times we have acted in the best interests of the child.”
A Ministry of Justice report last year also criticised the balance given to abusers in private law children cases.
It said: “Submissions highlighted a feeling that abuse is systematically minimised, ranging from children’s voices not being heard, allegations being ignored, dismissed or disbelieved, to inadequate assessment of risk, traumatic court processes, perceived unsafe child arrangements, and abusers exercising continued control through repeat litigation.”
It found: “The courts almost always ordered some form of contact, frequently unrestricted, and usually without requiring an alleged abuser to address their behaviour.”
Campaigners are calling for more transparency.
They want the government to provide figures on numbers of abuse victims who’ve lost their children in the courts – and if a parent seeks mental health support due to abuse, then for help to be given, rather than their children taken away and sometimes given to the abuser.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are determined to keep victims and children safe.
“Last year we announced an overhaul of how family courts deal with domestic abuse cases.
“This will provide extra protections for victims, and we are currently reviewing the presumption of parental involvement where there is a risk of harm to a child.”
Nazir Afzal is a solicitor and the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England. Among his notable cases, he brought the Rochdale sex grooming gangs to trial in 2012.
Nazir’s parents arrived in the UK from Pakistan in 1961 and he was born in Birmingham the following year. After completing his legal training he started his career as a defence lawyer but soon realised that he preferred prosecution to defence, joining the Crown Prosecution Service in 1991.
As director of prosecutions for London he turned his attention to so-called honour-based violence and brought successful prosecutions against the perpetrators of these crimes. In 2011 as chief crown prosecutor for north-west England he began investigating sex grooming gangs in Rochdale, overturning a previous CPS decision not to bring charges against the gangs. He brought prosecutions against nine men who were convicted and jailed in 2012 for the sexual exploitation of 47 young girls.
Nazir retired from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2015. He currently chairs the Catholic Church’s new safeguarding body and advises the Welsh government on issues of gender-based violence.
The coronavirus lockdown has created a “perfect storm” for many children isolated with their abusers, ex-home secretary Sajid Javid has said.
Writing in the Telegraph, he said this will contribute to a “surge” in cases.
He said he will lead a new “no holds barred” inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK with the Centre for Social Justice think tank.
The inquiry will examine organised child sexual exploitation and the abuse of children online.
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced last month that the government will publish a paper “later this year” on research into group-based child sexual exploitation, which was commissioned by Mr Javid when he was home secretary in 2018.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that something that “weighed the most heavily on him” during his time as home secretary in 2018 and 2019 was child sexual abuse and its “true scale”.
He said he was “particularly concerned” about lockdown because “children are left to isolate alongside their abuser and they will therefore suffer severe long-term damage and this kind of thing isn’t reflected in statistics just yet, but it will be, and I’m very concerned about that”.
The former chancellor said the investigation into will look at organised child sexual exploitation, including gangs and on-street grooming.
The second part of the inquiry will examine how child sexual abuse “happens today”, with a focus on online abuse and live streaming.
Of the gang-based exploitation, Mr Javid said: “We know that of all these high profile cases when there have been convictions, a disproportionate number of people are from Asian heritage, particularly Pakistani heritage, my own heritage and that both saddens and angers me.
“People from my heritage, many of them disproportionately responsible for what we’ve seen and I want to know know why.”
He said in the past there had been an “ignorance” of this in some authorities.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Javid said: “The surge in child sexual abuse happening right now won’t be reflected in statistics until later this year.
“As appalling as those numbers will be, however, they’ll still only scrape the surface of what’s been occurring under our noses for decades.”
Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice think tank, said it was “highly courageous” of Mr Javid to “speak out on the issue, which has been difficult to confront and too often neglected”.
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barndardos, said it was an “important warning” from Mr Javid that some children are trapped at home with their abusers.
In 2018, in his role as home secretary, Mr Javid ordered research into the “characteristics and contexts” of gangs abusing children, arguing that ignoring issues such as ethnicity is more likely to fuel the far-right.
He said he wanted officials researching the causes of gang-based exploitation to leave “no stone unturned”.
The review came after grooming gangs were convicted in Huddersfield, Oxford, and Rotherham.
Due to be published later this year, the paper on this review “will outline the insights gained” and will “focus on how agencies can learn lessons from the past to tackle group-based offending and safeguard vulnerable children”.
Nazir Afzal is best known for helping victims of the Rochdale sex abuse ring get justice. When he became a chief crown prosecutor in 2011 he overturned a previous decision by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to take the case forward, suggesting that as the perpetrators were Asian, “white professionals’ oversensitivity to political correctness . . . may have contributed to justice being stalled”. Nine men were later convicted of a catalogue of offences including rape, sexual activity with a girl under 16 and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
This fast-paced memoir, cantering through some of the most complex, violent and fascinating cases he oversaw, explores what led him to become a champion of the ignored. Afzal grew up in 1960s Birmingham in a Pakistani Muslim family who often felt that “without any warning, we might be told to leave”. The book opens with a powerful account of a young Afzal being assaulted in a racially motivated attack. Afterwards his father tells him: “The police are not interested in you. Justice doesn’t mean anything to us.” Afzal says he felt determined to ensure that justice really was for everyone.
He was an industrious student. Law school beckoned and by the end of the 1980s he was a defence solicitor. A second epiphany came when he was defending a rapist who he knew was lying. “The sex was consensual,” said the man. Afzal resigned that same day. Eventually he realised his calling lay with the CPS, even though the work was “relentless”. What Afzal, who left the CPS in 2015, confronted repeatedly is an anachronistic legal system, with archaic laws and courts that force victims to stand outside with the suspects’ families.
The main thrust of his career focused on what he terms “gender terrorism”: violence against women and girls, including so-called honour killings and forced marriages. He scrutinised in particular the way victims of honour killings were often treated as partly responsible for their own murders. One such case was that of Heshu Yones, a 16-year-old girl from west London whose father slit her throat after she started dating a boy. In court she was portrayed as “wayward” and when the judge sentenced the father, he said that he understood what it must be like to have a daughter who was out of control. The killer received a reduced tariff as a result. Afzal realised there were systemic problems with the way honour killings were handled by the police, by social workers, by the legal system — and started trying to educate them.
A similar victim-blaming attitude was present in Rochdale, where the girls were initially dismissed as not being credible. What had occurred was an epidemic of grooming and abuse; teenagers plied with alcohol and coerced into unprotected intercourse with multiple, much older men. In one case a man poured petrol over a 14-year-old with learning difficulties and threatened to set her alight unless she carried out a sex act on him. It was a world before #MeToo and these girls were brave silence-breakers.
Now Afzal sees the grooming trial as “one of the most important cases in the history of modern British justice”. The repercussions were huge; police officers were investigated and social workers struck off. I wish Afzal had gone into more detail on the case, though — it feels worthy of its own book.
A senior police officer admitted that his force ignored the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani grooming gangs for decades because it was afraid of increasing “racial tensions”, a watchdog has ruled.
After a five-year investigation, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) upheld a complaint that the Rotherham officer told a missing child’s distraught father that the town “would erupt” if it was known that Asian men were routinely having sex with under-age white girls.
The chief inspector is said to have described the abuse as “P*** shagging” and to have said it had been “going on” for 30 years: “With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out.”
His incendiary language features in a confidential report by the watchdog that upholds six complaints against South Yorkshire police by a former child victim of sexual exploitation.
Its 13-page document, seen by The Times, was issued two days after a critical review of multiple police failings during a botched inquiry into the organised sexual abuse of vulnerable young girls by men of Pakistani heritage in Manchester.
The Rotherham complainant was repeatedly abused over several years from 2003. The IOPC said it was “very clear that you were sexually exploited by Asian men” and upheld a complaint that police “took insufficient action to prevent you from harm”.
Until now police forces across the north and the Midlands have consistently denied that concerns about upsetting community sensitivities or accusations of racism were a factor in their past failure to tackle grooming gangs.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said last night that the Rotherham and Manchester scandals represented “a failure of the state to fulfil one of its fundamental roles, protecting our children”. “Institutionalised, corrosive behaviour that disregards victims has to end,” she said. “Tackling this abuse is a priority for the Home Office, which is why I have accelerated the delivery of the Tackling Child Sex Abuse strategy that will put victims first. There will be no no-go areas.”
An investigation by The Times into child grooming in towns across the north prompted an independent inquiry. Its 2014 report found that between 1997 and 2013 more than 1,400 Rotherham children were exposed to severe levels of sexual abuse and violence by groups of men who were “almost all” of Pakistani heritage. To date, 36 men have been convicted for crimes related to the scandal.
The watchdog has informed the young woman that its report has been shared with the South Yorkshire force, which “agreed with our findings”. She was told that the IOPC was unable to identify the chief inspector.
It interviewed 16 police officers known to have had dealings with the girl during her years of exploitation but the report said that “none of them could recall their involvement with you”. Operation Linden, its inquiry into complaints of alleged wrongdoing by South Yorkshire officers in connection to such crimes, was launched in late 2014.
Its scrutiny of the young woman’s allegations formed one strand of a larger operation that has featured 91 investigations. It has not been revealed whether misconduct charges have been brought. At the time, her parents’ fear that she was being abused by adults was magnified by a growing frustration that police did not take their concerns seriously and viewed the vulnerable girl as a “naughty kid, a teenager playing up”.
Her father told The Times that this impression was confirmed by his conversation with the senior officer. “She’d been missing for weeks and he was talking as though she was an adult doing it of her own free will. He said it had been going on for 30 years and that in his day they used to call them ‘P*** shaggers’. I told him she was a child and this was child abuse.”
The complainant and her family said they were pleased by the watchdog’s findings but did not believe that any officer would be held to account.
Its final report is yet to be published.
Steve Noonan, the IOPC’s director of major investigations, said that its Rotherham investigation was “continuing to make significant progress”.
“We have completed more than 90 per cent of the inquiries. Our priority has been, and always will be, the welfare of the many survivors of child abuse we have been engaging with,” he said. “As their individual cases conclude, we provide them with a personal update on our findings.”
South Yorkshire police said it recognised the failings of its past and accepted the watchdog’s findings. The chief inspector’s reported comments were “not something we tolerate in today’s force” and it was “unfortunate that no individual officer has been identified”.
“Since 2014 we have developed a far deeper understanding of child sexual exploitation,” it added.
Senior police officers should be prosecuted for mishandling a Greater Manchester sexual abuse scandal that resulted in most offenders getting away with their crimes, a whistleblower has said.
Margaret Oliver, a former detective constable who led Greater Manchester police’s investigation into child sexual exploitation, said the force had spent years trying to cover up its failures.
An independent report published on Tuesday found that up to 52 children may have been victims of the sexual abuse ring, but Operation Augusta had been shut down prematurely partly because senior officers had prioritised solving burglaries and car crime.
Some of the officers involved when the investigation was launched in 2004 are still serving, and the findings have now been passed on to the Independent Office for Police Conduct to decide if there was any wrongdoing.
“I can’t be more critical of what they did. Accountability is the answer, consequences for those failures, changes in the law to ensure that they can be charged with gross misconduct,” said Oliver.
“Based on [GMP’s] track record I don’t have any faith that they will do anything unless they are forced kicking and screaming to do it.”
Oliver resigned from the force after 15 years in October 2012. She had also worked on Operation Span, an investigation into reports of grooming in Rochdale. She later went public with claims that allegations of rape and sexual abuse were not being recorded by police.
Although she said she felt vindicated by the publication of the report, because it “officially acknowledged” the validity of her concerns, she added that ultimately greater action was needed to right the wrongs of the past.
“It’s very easy to talk the talk, what we need is action and not just from GMP, this is a national issue,” said Oliver. “This needs to come from the top of government, they need to be forced to address it properly.”
“Multiple rapes of vulnerable young children – 11- and 12-year-olds – deserve action and those who should take that action are senior police officers.”
The original investigation was launched following the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, who died from an overdose in 2003 after being injected with heroin by a 50-year-old man.
In an emotional statement on Tuesday, Victoria’s grandmother, Joan Agoglia, said the publication of the report was “wonderful, as I’ve been fighting for this all my life it seems” but emphasised the extent to which authorities had not taken concerns raised about the girl’s wellbeing seriously.
“Vicky told me about what this man had done to her. She was so bruised underneath her private parts, you couldn’t believe it. She told me that she had been beaten,” said Agoglia.
Although the operation was shut down in July 2005 because of a lack of resources, Oliver claimed the force viewed the girls as an “underclass”, adding that “these weren’t the chief constable’s daughters”.
The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, who commissioned the review, said he had raised the findings of an inquest into Victoria’s death with the attorney general because he felt “uncomfortable” that they did not raise failures of authorities to safeguard her.
Assistant chief constable Mabs Hussain, the head of specialist crime for GMP, said: “We have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct so that they can carry out an independent assessment to determine if there are any conduct matters that should be investigated.”
“Of course back in early 2000s, the priorities for forces across the UK were very different. This has completely changed and today safeguarding the vulnerable is our absolute priority.”
A friend told me his student daughter had become a feminist activist. Check out her Facebook page, he said. So I did, expecting posts on the gender pay gap or #MeToo. Instead I discovered the campaign to which she and her mates devoted their energy was to save the Sheffield branch of Spearmint Rhino.
Seriously? A lap-dancing club? Indeed, a multinational lap-dancing corporation, where men from London to Las Vegas can pay near-naked women to grind on their crotches in private booths. Spearmint Rhino, whose posters of strippers dressed in sexy uniforms for “naughty schoolgirl” parties were banned by the advertising watchdog, and which exists to flatter and feed the sexual entitlement of men, according to its founder John Gray.
Not just any old Spearmint Rhino either but Sheffield’s, where the council recorded 74 breaches of the licence and 145 of the club’s own code of conduct, including sexual touching and masturbation. Yet outside the club with placards, demanding the council ignore such violations, were women students.
Until recently feminists campaigned to close such clubs, which proliferated under New Labour’s shameful loosening of licensing laws. Residents fought to stop them being sited near homes or schools, where passing girls would be cat-called. Women in business battled male bosses who entertained clients in strip joints, meaning female executives must either endure the bump ’n’ grind or lose networking opportunities. Women’s equality was judged incompatible with male sexual services on every high street.
Yet the Spearmint Rhino feminists told Sheffield council that “stripping is a crucial drive in the feminist movement” and “plays a huge role in empowering women”. Those who wanted the club closed, including the local Women’s Equality Party, were “SWERFs”: Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, ie prudes and bigots. Among the club’s most vocal supporters was Sophie Wilson, 23, a Sheffield councillor and now the prospective Labour candidate for Rother Valley.
Given this constituency includes part of Rotherham, you’d expect Ms Wilson to be mindful of the town’s recent sexual abuse scandal, aware that 20 men were jailed for grooming, rape and trafficking, that her voters include some of the 1,500 female victims. These grotesque crimes, the ensuing cover-up and recriminations, have left a festering wound. No surprise that residents voted for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual entertainment venues: from next year Rotherham council won’t renew any strip club licences.
Yet instead of reaching out to victim groups, Ms Wilson has gone to war against one of Rotherham’s bravest survivors. Sammy Woodhouse described being raped and impregnated as a 14-year-old by Arshid Hussain, now jailed, in her memoir Just A Child. With low self-esteem, few qualifications and criminal convictions (after Hussain inveigled her into robbery and drug dealing) she could only find work as a stripper in clubs.
For nine years she endured sexual assaults, the constant badgering by clients for “extras”, saw foreign women trafficked by pimps who demand girls illicitly offer sex. Many lap dancers she met shared her troubled trajectory: child abuse, manipulative boyfriend, a subsequent sense of worthlessness. The parallels with the Rotherham victims are obvious. As the National Crime Agency wrote: “The girls, who were all vulnerable and craving attention and love, were deliberately targeted for the sole purpose of becoming sexual objects for the men.” Perfect strip-club fresh meat.
Sammy Woodhouse is aghast that middle-class students believe lap-dancing clubs are empowering. Or that Sophie Wilson responded to Spearmint Rhino’s offer of a free night out as reward for saving their licence with an excited: “I’m up for it.” In response, Ms Wilson called Woodhouse — a Rother Valley voter — “SWERF trash”. It is hard to believe such an immature, insensitive person could be selected for a seat beset with complex problems. But the Rother Valley long-list compiled by Labour’s NEC excluded most local candidates. Ms Wilson was a Momentum choice.
She will need all the goodwill she can get. The seat has never returned a Tory but Labour’s majority has fallen steadily to 3,882 at the last election. Despite this, Sophie Wilson’s only impact so far is to trample on the town’s sensitive past.
Who will go out leafleting for her on dark nights now? And if she wins, will she prove to be another hastily chosen, social media big mouth with little real-life experience, like the disgraced Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara?
Yet sadder than this betrayal of South Yorkshire voters by the party they have always trusted with power is the mindset of Spearmint Rhino feminists. Has the first generation raised on internet porn come to believe that sexual objectification is normal, even desirable? They call themselves “sex positive”, implying that women who oppose lap-dancing clubs ain’t getting any. (As if the sex trade has any respect for female pleasure.) They say lap dancers just need unionisation and for men to tip them well.
This, remember, is the #MeToo generation that calls a hand on a knee sexual assault and railed against entitled businessmen ogling hostesses at the Presidents Club charity ball last year. Yet it does not see that the narrative that gave Harvey Weinstein impunity to grab any passing starlet is played out in every £30 private dance. Wrapped up in their own narcissism and “identity” they are blind to the bigger picture. They are Spearmint Rhino’s useful feminist idiots. Ladies, you’ve been had.
The first time Amere Singh Dhaliwal raped “Girl A”, she was 13 or 14 years old. Along with two other British Asian men, he approached her and her friends at a bus station in Huddersfield and offered them alcohol.
Girl A cannot remember which of the men she lost her virginity to, weeks later, but she does remember that when Dhaliwal raped her, he told his girlfriend and others that she had been the sexual aggressor. His girlfriend and her friends then beat up Girl A, breaking her nose. He passed her round his friends, who would take girls up to the moors and threaten to leave them there.
Girl A had an abortion, and after getting pregnant again, the gang dropped her. She suspects that, at 17, she was too old for them.
You cannot begin to understand a crime until you hear the fine details of it. The grit and the texture; its particular signature. There are many features of the Huddersfield grooming trial – which ended on 19 October with the convictions of 20 men for attacks on 15 girls – that demand careful consideration. The way that many of the men worked in the informal, night-time economy, at a taxi firm. The way they used Asian girls to approach the houses of the white girls, asking them to come out for the evening. The way that violence was meted out early on (as it was to Girl A) so that the threat always hung over the victims – a classic form of abusive control.
The reason I know the details above is because of the reporting of Stephanie Finnegan, who covers Leeds Crown Court for the Huddersfield Examiner. She was there when the gang were jailed for 221 years. “The ringleader has been jailed for LIFE with a minimum of 18 years,” she tweeted. “Or as I like to think of it, at least an entire childhood.”
I want to give credit to Finnegan because court reporting in Britain has been hollowed out. Forty local papers shut in 2017 alone, according to Press Gazette. The legal system itself is creaking, thanks to years of cuts – spending on legal aid has shrunk by £1bn in five years. Even in high-profile cases there has been no legal aid. The parents of Charlie Gard, a child whose doctors recommended the withdrawal of medical treatment against the family’s wishes, did not receive it. Together, our courts and our press should make sure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. Yet the economic conditions in which both are operating make that harder.
The vacuum is being filled by agitators such as Tommy Robinson. His arrest for filming on the steps of the court – and encouraging his Facebook followers to share the video – is a reflection of a system where justice is not being seen to be done. Yes, he exploited the echo-chamber of the American alt-right, failing to mention that Britain has strong laws on court reporting. But Robinson was aided in building his narrative by the lack of everyday reports on such grooming cases. There is little attention paid to child sex abuse unless it is “newsworthy”. (That’s code for “unless the perpetrators are Asian or Muslim”, in case you’re wondering.) “A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of ten white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences,” Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor of the Rochdale gang, said in 2014. “It didn’t get the level of coverage.”
That is what the case of Charlie Gard has in common with the Huddersfield grooming trial. In both, a kernel of truth was nurtured by online conspiracy theorists, with poisonous results. Charlie’s parents felt that they were denied access to justice by the British courts – and their grievance was jumped on by the American pro-life movement, which was intent on proving that socialised healthcare, also known as the NHS, inevitably leads to “death sentences”.
In the Huddersfield case, yes, there is a racial element. It does matter that the defendants were British Asians, because they all were. All 20 men also knew each other, had access to cars and cash through the night-time economy, and they shared an ideology that allowed them to treat other people – women – as things.
Ah, comes the snap answer. You mean Islam? Too glib. The ringleader, Amere Singh Dhaliwa was a Sikh and the other perpetrators were hardly model Muslims: remember, their first offer was to get the girls to come drinking with them. They were, however, guilty of racially charged misogyny – a shared excuse that white girls were “slags”. (That said, it’s worth noting that one of the Huddersfield victims, as with other gangs, was Asian.)
Successive trials have shown us that child sex abuse exists among every community and ethnicity in Britain. The TV presenter Rolf Harris. The football coach Barry Bennell. The publicist Max Clifford. Father Paul Moore, a Catholic priest from Ayrshire jailed earlier this year.
Think of it like a virus that causes different symptoms in different patients, as each type of perpetrator finds their own rationale for their actions – and the same structures of power and prejudice prevent their victims being believed. In Bristol, British-Somali men told girls it was their “culture and tradition” to share sexual partners. In Oxford, eight men, mostly of Pakistani descent, alternately plied girls with drink and drugs, then threatened them with violence. In Newcastle, a report found, police considered “deterrent punishments” – for the victims, to try to stop them going back to their abusers. In Peterborough, where the ringleader was of Roma descent, a teenage victim was targeted because she had learning disabilities.
Nothing will get Girl A her childhood back. But we can make sure that the likes of Tommy Robinson don’t get to define the debate on child sex abuse. That’s why justice has to be done, and seen to be done.